BMW wanted to demonstrate that its cars will be able to take evasive action in slippery conditions.
BMW's slogan "sheer driving pleasure" may need to change to "hang on for your life".
Get in, sit down, shut up and hang on -- to whatever you can. BMW has created the world’s first self-driving car that is capable of drifting, the term given to lurid rear-wheel skids made famous by movies like the Fast and the Furious.
The German car maker has demonstrated the technology at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, an automated drive away from the annual Consumer Electronics Show.
In a case of driving fast but not so furiously, BMW engineers programmed the car to navigate its way inch-perfect around the race track, taking the best lines, braking as late as possible to achieve a fast lap time, and weaving through chicanes at maximum speed.
But keeping hands off the wheel to prove the point created a new dilemma for the engineers running the demonstration: they needed a grip handle on the driver’s side, or better seats to hold them in place. Instead, they were tossed like salad.
BMW wet the circuit on one particular bend so that the surface had the same lack of grip on each and every lap. And, on cue, the experimental BMW 235i coupe went into a perfect drift, lap after lap. BMW and Audi engineers say self driving technology is now so advanced that it is almost production ready, but they are waiting on governments to make changes to legislation to allow it.
"We can have this technology on the road in a very short period of time -- in the next two or three years -- but we have to discuss with the legislators," Audi spokesman Christian Bangemann, said at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. "We are allowed drive autonomously here in Nevada but we are not allowed to sell it to customers. For now only our engineers are allowed."
BMW says it is unlikely that it will enable its automated cars to "drift", but it wanted to demonstrate that its cars will be able to take evasive action in slippery conditions, should driverless technology eventually be approved for public use. Car makers say automated or "piloted" cars will be showroom-ready "within two to three years" but it will likely be 2020 before governments are convinced by the limited safety risks of the technology.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling